ND landowner sues Midcontinent over cable

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2009 1:03 PM

A North Dakota landowner has sued Midcontinent Communications over allegations that the company did not get the proper permission when it buried cable on his property.

The federal lawsuit, which mirrors one filed last year against AT&T, names South Dakota-based Midcontinent Communications Investors and Delaware-based TCI Midcontinent and seeks unspecified damages. The suit filed by New Salem farmer Dale Neidhardt also is a proposed class action, meaning it could involve hundreds of state residents if a judge approves.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Bismarck, said Midcontinent did not obtain the proper permission from landowners when it laid underground cable on private property, including on land for which state, county or township governments have easements for roads.

"Midcontinent ... should have known the state or political subdivisions had no ownership right in the land and thus also should have entered into agreements with land owners for the use of their land," the lawsuit said.

Midcontinent spokesman Tom Simmons declined immediate comment Tuesday, saying the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that Midcontinent trespassed on private land and put signs on the land. It asks a judge to declare that Midcontinent has no rights to the property in question and award financial damages.

"Midcontinent has been unjustly enriched," it said.

A settlement is pending in the AT&T case that calls for affected property owners east of Dickinson to be paid 75 cents per foot of cable buried in roadway ditches on their land. In return, AT&T would get easements allowing it to maintain cable in the ditches in an area about 12 miles long. AT&T said it legally buried cable in North Dakota road ditches and does not acknowledge any liability or wrongdoing.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland has set a Monday deadline for potential participants in the AT&T class action settlement to "opt out" of the agreement and proceed with their own lawsuits. He also has set a Dec. 21 hearing for a decision on final approval.

Fargo attorney Mike Miller has been the lead plaintiff's attorney on both lawsuits.

"A big difference in this case and the AT&T case is that we believe there are hundreds and hundreds of miles of cable involved in this case where ... we learned there only was about 12 miles of AT&T cable buried in roadway ditches in North Dakota where AT&T had not obtained an easement," he said in an e-mail.